Washing and Storing Cosplay After the Con is Over

how to store your cosplay

You just got back from a long convention and all you want to do is throw your costumes into the closet and forget about them. But don’t do it! If you take a little bit of time now to store and organize your cosplays now, you will thank yourself when you’re getting ready for your next convention.

As a general rule, you should store your cosplay in a cool, dry closet or storage area and avoid excessive sunlight. It’s best to carefully fold your costumes or hang them up depending on the type of material used. If possible, it’s also best to keep costume props and accessories alongside the cosplay.

Wigs, props, and accessories also need to be stored and labeled so they don’t get lost or separated from their costume. You’ll want to keep everything as organized as possible to keep it in good condition and to make sure you can find everything when you’re ready to wear the costume again.

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Washing your cosplay

Before putting your costume in storage until the next convention, you’ll need to wash any parts that smell or got dirty. Don’t ignore this step! Wearing a costume all weekend can lead to a buildup of body odor. It may not seem that strong right now, but the next time you put your costume on, you will smell it.

When is it necessary to wash your cosplay?

It’s not always necessary to wash a cosplay. It all depends on how long you wore it, how hot it was, the type of garment, and even the type of material used. For example, a coat might not need to be washed if the shirt underneath it soaked up all the sweat. To determine whether or not a costume will need to be washed, you’ll need to inspect each piece separately.

  1. Look for any visible spots. Inspect your costume to look for dirty spots. Maybe you spilled something on it or the hem is dirty from walking outside. 
  2. Sniff your costume. It may seem silly, by put your nose right up against the armpits and other heavy sweating areas of the costume. If you notice even the faintest scent, that means the costume needs to be washed before you wear it again.

Is the costume machine washable?

The easiest way to wash a cosplay is to machine wash it, but that has the potential to ruin some costumes. Before throwing your cosplay into the washing machine, consider these factors:

  • What material is it made of? Most types of fabric are machine washable at least on a gentle setting with cold water. However, you want to be careful with some faux leather materials and delicate fabrics like silk and velvet. If you purchased the material yourself, there should be washing instructions for the fabric that you can look up on the website.
  • Are there any accessories attached? If you glued on any EVA foam, clay, or styrofoam pieces, you will have to either spot clean the costume or get it dry cleaned. Other additions, such as shoulder padding, can also make the costume non-machine washable.
  • Did you use any dye on part of the costume? If you used dye on part of the costume, it might bleed into other areas when you wash the costume.

Even if the costume is machine washable, I recommend always putting it in a gentle setting to avoid damage to the costume. If you cannot put the cosplay in the washing machine, you have the option to either hand wash it or send it to the dry cleaners. 

Ironing the cosplay

After you’ve washed your costume, you also want to take the time to iron it before placing it in storage. This will help to prevent the costumes from developing stubborn wrinkles while it’s packed away. It’s especially useful for cosplays you intend to hang in the closet because you might not have to iron them again before you wear the costume. It can save you so much time when you’re getting ready for the next convention!

Storing your cosplay so you can wear it again

Once your costume is washed and pressed, it’s ready to go into storage. The more organized you are during this step, the easier it will be to find everything for the next convention and keep your costumes in functional condition.

Ideally, you will be able to keep all the different parts of your costume together in storage. I find that’s the easiest way to keep track of everything. I like to include any accessories in small ziplock bags, and the wig right alongside the costume. Of course, this is not always possible if you have any large props or clothing pieces that need special treatment, so it’s okay if you are unable to stick to this rule.

Choosing a good place for storage

The best place for storing costumes is going to be in a closet that is cool and away from bright sunlight. You might be tempted to put the costumes into an attic or crawlspace, but remember, these spaces are usually not air conditioned, so your costume could be damaged by the excessive heat in the summer. Over time, bright sunlight will make the color of your costume fade, so it’s best to keep your costumes out of rooms with lots of light, or in opaque boxes.

You also want to avoid any areas that are too damp. If your basement floods in the rainy season, it’s probably best to pick another area of the house so that you can avoid damage to the costume.

In general, a bedroom or hall closet is a good space for costumes, but you can also use a garage, basement, second bedroom, or another area of your home if the conditions are good.

If you only have a limited amount of space in your closet and most of your storage space is in a less ideal location, prioritize the costume pieces that are more sensitive to light or heat. Leather and delicate fabrics like silk should be kept out of the heat, but cotton fabrics tend to do well in almost all types of conditions and can be stored just about anywhere. Anything that used hot glue during construction should be kept out of hot storage areas because it will melt.

cosplay storage bin
I like to partition my storage bins with small boxes so that I can keep all the pieces of the same costume together.

Storing the costume

In general, there are two ways to store your costumes depending on the space you have available. You can store them neatly folded, or you can store them hanging in your closet. Folding your costumes will help to save space and keep them together with the costume accessories, but hanging the costumes will prevent wrinkles and keep delicate fabrics in better condition.

For the costumes you are folding, I recommend keeping them in separate boxes alongside their accessories. I like to carefully fold each costume and put it into a small box (a storage cube, shoebox, or small cardboard box). Then I will organize the small boxes inside of a sturdy, large plastic bin. This way, the large plastic bin will do the job of protecting the costumes, and you only need to keep track of a few large boxes instead of 20 small boxes with single costumes.

Which costumes should you hang in a closet?

The costume pieces that you should hang up are anything that uses a delicate fabric that will be ruined if it’s folded, and anything that you don’t want to iron again. Materials like leather (and faux leather) and velvet can end up with irreversible creases if they are not kept flat, so these should not be stored folded. 

I also like to hang costumes that were made with polyester fabric. These can be annoying to iron since high temperatures can cause the plastic fibers to melt (it’s also why I try to avoid polyester now).

You also probably want to hang any intricate ball gowns or costumes with elaborate layers and ruffles. These can take a very long time to iron, so you can save yourself time by keeping them in good condition on hangers.

loosely braided wig
Loosely braid long wigs to keep them from tangling while being transported or in storage.

Storing wigs

Wigs are another aspect of cosplay that can be ruined if stored incorrectly. The way that you store them will depend on how styled the wig is and how long it is. 

Short, unstyled wigs are the easiest to store. Before putting the wig away, gently comb through it to get rid of any tangles. If you’ve worn the wig several times, you should consider washing it too, but that’s not always necessary. Keep the original hairnet and tissue paper that your wig came with and simply place them back on the wig, and put the wig back into the plastic bag. Then you can place the bagged wig in the box with the folded cosplay.

Long unstyled wigs can also be stored in their original bag. However, before you put them away, make sure to thoroughly comb out any knots, since long wigs tend to tangle easily. If you have a hopelessly knotted wig, follow my guide to get rid of the tangles and prevent them in the future. After your wig is nice and neat, put your wig into a loose braid and place it back in the original hairnet and plastic bag. If you lost the hairnet, you can buy them pretty cheaply online.

Heavily styled wigs will need more space and care when storing. I recommend keeping each of these wigs upright on their own wig head. Place them inside of their own box so they don’t get messed up rubbing against other objects. I don’t recommend keeping them out on a shelf outside of a box. They are likely to start collecting dust (and pet fur!) and are more likely to become ruined.

Styled wigs also tend to use a log of glue and products that can start to melt in the heat. So it’s very important to keep them out of areas that will get excessively hot.

Storing props and accessories

Small props and accessories can usually be kept alongside the rest of the costume. The exact storage method will vary a lot depending on what the prop is. Fragile items will need a lot more care than a simple pair of gloves, and large props will need different storage methods than small accessories.

Tips for storing your costume props and accessories:

  1. Store small accessories together. Place any jewelry, vampire teeth, elf ears, and other small costume pieces together in a ziplock bag or small box. Then put that together with the rest of the costume so it does not get lost.
  2. Put stuffing around fragile pieces. Use crinkled up paper or scrap material to add a layer of soft padding around any breakable pieces. This will ensure they don’t accidentaly crack as soon as you move the box around.
  3. Use stuffing to support odd shapes. You can also use paper or scrap material to keep a hat in the correct shape. Other costume pieces, like EVA foam armor, can also use some support to help keep them in the correct shape while in storage.
  4. Leaning large items in one corner. If you have large props, try designating one corner of your storage area for them to lean against. Try to make it as out-of-the-way as possible so you don’t end up tripping over them and knocking them over.
  5. Beware of paint on props. Put a barrier (such as paper or a plastic bag) between any painted props and other pieces of the costume. If the prop is next to another object for a long time, the paint can easily end up rubbing off and ruining whatever it’s touching.
labeled box of cosplay
I use masking tape to label what is inside each large storage box.

Labeling your costumes

Before you are finished, I highly recommend you label all of your boxes with what’s in them. Make sure the labels are visible on the side of the box so you know exactly which one to pull down when you’re looking for a specific costume. I like to use masking tape labels so I can easily remove them and change them if I reorganize my costumes later.

In addition to the outside labels, I like to include a checklist of costume pieces with every cosplay. I’ll include a list of all the separate pieces in the box with the costume, including the garment pieces, wig, shoes, accessories, and any special makeup products that I’ll need. This way I can easily go through the list when packing for the convention to make sure I’m not forgetting anything.

What to do with costumes you will no longer wear

If you have a lot of old cosplays taking up space in your closet, it might be time to think about how to clear them out to make space for the new costumes. You don’t have to just throw away the old costumes, there are other options to give your costume a second life or recycle parts of it. If you’re wondering what to do, check out my tips for what you can do with old cosplays you will never wear again.

Emily Joice

My name is Emily, and I have been cosplaying since my very first convention in 2008. Over the years, I've experimented with all different kinds of cosplay costumes, especially loving the process of creating props and styling wigs. I also delved into cosplay photography, and love exploring how to optimize costumes so they look excellent in photos. Most of the photos you find on this site were taken by me over my years at anime conventions.

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